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RECAP: OSU cruises past feckless WSU defense, 90-77

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Three different Beavers scored 20 or more points.

Ron Chenoy - USA TODAY Sports

Three different players scored 20 or more points as the Oregon State Beavers cruised to a 90-77 win over the Washington State Cougars.

In a tale as old as Ernie Kent’s tenure, WSU (8-11 overall, 1-5 Pac-12) had a pretty good offensive game that ultimately meant very little thanks to their sieve of a defense that set a new mark for futility this season by allowing 1.34 points per possession to OSU (12-6, 4-2). The Cougars have now allowed 85 or more points in four of their six Pac-12 games.

The Cougs themselves scored at a 1.14 clip — the second-highest allowed all season by OSU and its stingy interior defense — but it hardly mattered as the game was never in doubt in the second half, and probably wasn’t in doubt even from the tip.

WSU took a 2-0 lead when Jeff Pollard made a nice little post move, and while OSU immediately regained the lead, the game sort of hung out for a while in a competitive space with the Beavers leading by five or less. But then the lead started to creep up — first hovering around an eight-ish-point margin for a while, then up into double digits.

There was no flash flood, no dominant run that put the game out of reach; just a steady stretching of the lead as it became clear WSU simply couldn’t match the Beavers bucket for bucket because the Beavers were playing at least a modicum of defense.

There was a brief run in the second half keyed by freshman CJ Elleby, who had his best stretch of play in some time: He scored eight of WSU’s first 11 points of the second half as WSU would go on — behind a couple of Robert Franks free throws and five points from reserve point guard Jervae Robinson — to trim a 19-point deficit to just nine points.

There was 12:35 to go in the game at that point, seemingly plenty of time to close the remainder of the gap. However, the run only improved WSU’s win probability to a meager 3.5 percent, and the Beavers showed why by clamping down on defense and going on a 16-6 run over the next seven-plus minutes to keep the Cougars at arm’s length.

The main reason for the Cougars’ porous defense was simple: They failed to stop OSU around the basket (the Beavers made 63 percent of their twos, as the Cougars sank to 320th nationally in two-point defense), and on the rare occasions they did, the Beavers often secured an offensive rebound, grabbing a whopping 44 percent of their own misses.

Conversely, WSU secured only 17 percent of its own offensive rebound opportunities. Craig and I railed against the statistical scourge of “rebounding margin” on our podcast this week, but tonight is one of those nights where the margin was so large — 39-24 in favor of OSU — it actually proves to be a useful short hand of just how dominant the Beavers were.

And this is now becoming a real problem for WSU: Its three worst defensive rebounding performances have all come in Pac-12 play. It shouldn’t be a surprise that WSU isn’t performing as well as it did early in the season, given the weak, low-major-heavy non-conference schedule that featured big men of questionable size and athletic ability. But it’s worth noting nonetheless — for a defense that already stinks at stopping shots, failing to secure the rare misses just exacerbates the issue.

Elleby finished with 21 points — all in the second half! — on 9-of-16 shooting, flashing an array of moves and jumpers that caused television analyst Matt Muehlebach to compare the freshman to former San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili, and the comparison seems apt enough. He also chipped in four rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Franks finished with 20 on 14 shots before fouling out, while Marvin Cannon chipped in 10.

Stephen Thompson Jr. scored 22 for OSU with seven assists and six rebounds, while Tres Tinkle scored 21 and Ethan Thompson scored 20. The latter two needed just 23 shots to score their combined 41 points.

WSU gets an extra day of rest before its next game, which will be on Sunday at the Oregon Ducks, who are sure to be pretty mad after the way they lost to the Washington Huskies on Thursday. Tip off is at 5 p.m. on ESPNU if you, like me, are into being miserable and/or laughing for a couple of hours.